Mock drafts are an excellent exercise to work out strategies, get battle tested, and refine player versus player decision-making as a clock ticks down. My go-to site to quickly join a mock draft is fantasyfootballcalculator.com. In this mock draft, I tested out 'zero running back' strategy - explaining the concept in the draft plan section.
- 12 Teams
- PPR Scoring, 6pt Passing TDs
- Start QB-2RB-2WR-TE-Flex
- Draft Position: 1.04
This draft plan was outside my comfort zone as I typically grab at least a running back or two within the opening rounds of a draft. My goal was to wait until at least Round 5 before looking at running back, if not longer. The idea behind zero running back is to maximize more sturdy positions with early capital while taking plenty of later round shots on optimistic depth charts and talent situations around NFL backfields.
At 1.04, Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham would have been best case scenario options. More realistically, I planned on deciding between Julio Jones and A.J. Green. Ultimately, I decided on Julio Jones but Green is a quality choice in the mid-first to start out zero running back as well. From previous mock drafts the mid-to-late second round is fertile ground for another top receiver, so I rooted for running backs to populate the picks from 1.05 to 2.08.
Running backs were popular in the late first and early second rounds. David Johnson was a steal at 1.09 and Doug Martin was the surprise selection at 2.01. Even with Keenan Allen and Mike Evans (would have been my selection) off the board directly in front of me, Amari Cooper remained, who I chose over Alshon Jeffery. Four owners ended up going WR-WR to start the draft, while just one (Jamaal Charles-Doug Martin at the Round 1/2 turn) chose RB-RB for their opening.
The three owners populating the Round 2/3 turn between my selections all went WR-WR in this zone, totaling six receivers off the board before my 3.04 pick. Alshon Jeffery, Brandin Cooks, and Jarvis Landry were the three drafted of highest consideration on my board. With Julio Jones and Amari Cooper rostered already, this would be my flex spot in full PPR. I thought about Golden Tate and Sammy Watkins, settling on Kelvin Benjamin with the best quarterback of the three. I had pipe dreams of Tate making it back to 4.09 (he would go 3.12).
After Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers were drafted in the Round 3/4 range, Russell Wilson was my pick at 4.09. My next tier of wide receivers (Donte Moncrief, DeVante Parker, Jordan Matthews) I thought would make it back in Round 5 and all three owners at the Round 4/5 did not have a quarterback yet. If not practicing zero running back, Carlos Hyde would have been in the conversation as well. The format (6-point passing touchdowns) plays a factor in getting a top quarterback in this range as well.
Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger were drafted around the turn and I have to think Russell Wilson would have been gone if I passed at 4.09. With zero wide receivers gone from my target list and a flat tier of running backs, I take Donte Moncrief as my high-upside WR4. If Carlos Hyde had made it back to 5.04, he would have been my pick. Latavius Murray at 4.12 was a lackluster value on my board.
I thought there was a chance DeVante Parker made it back to 6.09 (he was drafted 6.01) and Jordan Matthews was gone in the early sixth. My wide receiver targets were dwindling as I started to shift to running backs of the draft plan. Kevin White and Tyler Lockett were two glaring names. I decided on White as my WR5 at 6.09.
Giovani Bernard and Ameer Abdullah were on my mid-round running back target list and drafted near the Round 6/7 turn. While I would have loved to add Tyler Lockett at 7.04, a sixth receiver would have been overboard considering only three can start weekly in this 15-man roster format. Plus a glaring target running back, Charles Sims, typically goes in this Round 7/8 range. Missing on the high-floor and high-upside potential of Sims could be draft-changing if passing here. I select Sims and resign to probably losing Lockett and being done with wide receivers in the draft.
Tyler Lockett was drafted at 7.08 and other potential running back targets like Theo Riddick and Justin Forsett for zero running back strategy were also gone by the mid-eighth round. My running back list remained stocked from my pre-draft prep and I take a Week 1 lead back in Frank Gore. His upside may be in the RB10-15 (and more touchdown-based), but I need a mix of higher-floor and upside shots in my running back corps.
Tevin Coleman was a target running back sniped in front of my 9.04 pick. Coleman would have been my selection. I debated Arian Foster but settled on the upside of C.J. Prosise with Sims and Gore in front of him. Foster, Isaiah Crowell, Rashad Jennings, and DeAngelo Williams would be the only running backs to be drafted before my 10.09 spot.
I have yet to discuss tight end, but the value eluded my board early in the draft. I took Sims over Tyler Eifert, Delanie Walker, and Coby Fleener in Round 7 as potential options. My next two targets were Julius Thomas and Zach Ertz. Like going later round quarterback, I was monitoring the other owners careful to maximize odds and value at tight end in this start-1TE format. The only owner without a tight end other than me was on the Round 10/11 turn side and another owner on this side of the draft board only had Martellus Bennett. I saw the odds of both Thomas and Ertz being drafted high. As a result, I took Julius Thomas at 10.09 to secure at least one of them.
Jimmy Graham was drafted by one of the above-mentioned owners late in Round 10 and I double up with Zach Ertz in Round 11. The tier of running back remaining was very flat. I was confident I would fill out the rest of my roster with quality bets, however, Zach Ertz was the last tight end of high interest available. In Round 12, no target running backs were taken from my board and I secured Jordan Howard as my RB4. The Bears depth chart is wide open and reports have been tepid about Jeremy Langford this offseason. Howard could be the early-down and goal-line back from early in the season if things break right.
Finishing off my running back-centric final rounds of the draft, I add Kenyan Drake (another murky NFL depth chart), DeAndre Washington (skeptical of Latavius Murray), and Josh Ferguson (love the player and have Gore coincidently). Paul Perkins, Kenneth Dixon, Javorius Allen, and Devontae Booker were other younger running backs sprinkled over the last three rounds of this mock draft.
*Draft Round in parenthesis*
Russell Wilson (4)
I felt I executed the zero running back approach well, not hitting the position until Round 7 with Charles Sims. Seeing Jameis Winston go at 13.03 is another example of the value available late in typical start-1QB formats. Taking Winston in Round 12 and Carlos Hyde in Round 4 instead of Russell Wilson would have been a more optimal result. Even after the draft, I bounce back and forth about my 3.04 selection - between Kelvin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, and Golden Tate. I like Tate plenty for 2016. Between zero wide receiver and zero running back strategy, I feel the importance of at least trying the approach in a mock draft or two will help refine an owner's late-round targets at each position. Waiting on these two positions (or quarterback-tight end) creates confidence in mining value with select target players late if other positions are more optimal picks early in a draft. Mock drafting and experimenting with a myriad of positional strategies sharpen the tools in a fantasy owner's toolbox. When the live drafts come, those tools are paramount to remaining cool under pressure with the clock ticking down.